Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Vanilla is one of those baseline flavors where if vanilla isn’t good, nothing else will be either. It is also the flavor that can get dressed up by nearly any ice cream topping or syrup, easily be added to a warm piece of pie, or be used as the base of a milkshake, while also being delicious when served solo!
It is sweet, creamy, and something about vanilla bean always reminds me of how vanilla bean ice cream was always a holiday dinner staple growing up. I remember my Grandma was always a little picky about what she bought, and when it came to ice cream, the vanilla needed to have the vanilla beans in it!
In my opinion, the hardest two parts of this recipe are: 1) scraping the vanilla bean seeds out of the pod completely, and 2) having an ice cream maker. Keep reading, as I have a few extra uses for the spent vanilla bean pods 🙂
I have had my ice cream maker for a little less than a year, but let me assure you, it has found a permanent home in my kitchen! The style ice cream maker I use does take a bit of advanced prep because the ice cream bowl needs about 18 hours to freeze before it is ready to churn. Alternatively: you could store the bowl in the freezer so it would always be ready for an impromptu ice cream!
As always, start by getting out all of your ingredients before you start any recipe!
Today I am using all half and half for the dairy (instead of half heavy whipping cream) and four egg yolks (instead of three). Heavy whipping cream has roughly three times the fat and calories per tablespoon when compared to half and half. I don’t want to get too nutritional fact technical. Essentially all using half and half saves you some calories as well as some $$$ at the grocery store since heavy whipping cream comes at a premium price. I add the extra egg yolk because I have found the mix freezes better (and keeps longer) when you do have a bit of extra fat in the recipe.
Starting the egg custard is easy. Add your sugar, egg yolks, and 1st cup of half and half into a sauce pan on low heat; whisk thoroughly. The total cook time is about 15-20 minutes.
Patience is a virtue here–my suggestion, whisk this with some good music playing.
I would also highly recommend using a thermometer to check the temp while everything is cooking. *Knock*On*Wood* You do not want to be the unlucky person that gives them self salmonella poisoning by not cooking the eggs enough! The CDC recommends cooking egg recipes to 160 degrees or greater before consuming. I recommend cooking your egg custard mixture to 165 just to be safe.
Note: I started to notice the mixture ‘yellow’ and thicken once the temperature was over 125 degrees.
Once your egg custard mixture is cooked to 165 degrees, you can remove it from the heat and strain to get any clumps out. I have yet to make an ice cream base that has no cooked egg clumps. While this is technically optional, I would rather not see any cooked egg clumps in my finished ice cream. The cooked egg clumps will not hurt you or the ice cream, but they won’t make the ice cream pretty! If you have a lot of cooked egg clumps it may mean you heated the egg custard mixture too fast or didn’t whisk the pot enough while it was cooking.
The vanilla bean pod is one of the hardest bits of this recipe. A vanilla bean pod is a relatively dry seed pod that contains an immeasurable amount of vanilla flavored goodness! A good pod will have some bend to it, similar to beef jerky or fruit leather and may be slightly tacky to the touch, like a raisin. If you can ‘snap’ the pod in half, it is too dry and may need replaced with a fresher one or perhaps some rehydrating prior to use (Google has many suggestions of how to do this, none of which I have ever needed to try).
The way to get the vanilla beans out of the pod is to carefully slice the pod in half longways to open it. Note: by in half, what I mean is you want the pod to open up like a hot dog bun. Since vanilla bean pods are so dark in color, it is a little hard to get a good demonstration picture. Next, you want to carefully use the tip of your knife to extract the yummy vanilla beans from the pod. Try to get as many of the vanilla beans into the still warm egg custard mixture as you can without any of the seed pod. Whisk the beans and let the mixture sit for at least 2-3 minutes. Like steeping tea, the vanilla seeds need a few minutes to infuse their vanilla flavored goodness into the mix!
Pro Tip: Used vanilla seed pods still have lots of flavor to add to other recipes! Try steeping a pod with your favorite tea or brewing it with coffee, soak the spent pods in vodka to make your own vanilla infused cocktails, or use the pod in your sugar bowl and make vanilla scented sugar!
Next we get to add the remaining two cups of half and half, as well as (optional) the vanilla extract (if you choose to use it). I only add 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract when I am using the full vanilla bean pod just for good measure that the mix will have that extra umph of flavor. Because the egg is already cooked, you can add the half and half, then taste it and decide if you would want to add the extra vanilla. The mix will seem a little too sweet at this point, but once frozen, the temperature will dull your tongue from some of the sweetness.
Now we get to chill the mixture and wait. For my ice cream maker to work best, I need to use a cold mix. Too warm and my mix would warm the ice cream bowl too much too fast for the mix to be churned properly into an ice cream. I typically let my mix chill overnight, but you can also make the mix first thing and have it be ready to churn by lunch time.
Note: if your ice cream maker has an electric cooling feature then you may be able to skip the time chilling in the fridge.
Before you add the mix to the ice cream maker, give it a good stir. Assemble your ice cream maker per manufacturer instructions, turn it on, and add your mix. This order of operations is important if your ice cream maker is like mine! Once frozen, the ice cream bowl will start freezing any liquid almost instantaneously and could put you at risk for breaking a piece of plastic into the ice cream.
The pictures I included show the ice cream just after it was added, at the 15 minute mark (starting to thicken and expand), and at the 30 minute mark (fully soft serve consistency).
Once you reach a soft serve consistency with your ice cream mix, it is ready to eat as is, or ready to be put into freezer safe containers for the ice cream to ripen in the freezer for the next two to four hours minimum. Ripen is a fancy ice cream making word for harden from soft serve to a scoop-able hard ice cream. My mix grew in size (volume) while churning. I started with roughly 4 1/4 cups of mix and ended with 1.5 quarts (6 cups) of ice cream!
I wish I could tell you how long this recipe will stay good in your freezer, but the longest it has ever lasted at my house is about two weeks! What I can promise is this Vanilla Bean Ice Cream goes super well as is, with cookies, as the starter to an ice cream sundae, or as Pie à la mode!
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 4 Egg Yolks
- 3 Cups Half & Half, divided
- 1 Vanilla Bean Pod, seeds scraped
- 1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- Electric Ice Cream Maker
- Freezer Ice Cream containers (optional if you want ‘soft serve’)
- Gather and pre measure all ingredients
- Add sugar, egg yolks, and 1st cup of Half & Half to a sauce pan, then wisk
- Heat on low, while continuously whisking, until sugar dissolves completely and mixture reaches 165 degrees
- Remove from heat and strain mixture into a mixing bowl to remove any clumps of cooked egg (optional). I use a fine mesh strainer because I want pretty ice cream
- While warm, add the scraped vanilla bean seeds, whisk and allow to infuse for 2-3 minutes
- Add the additional 2 cups of Half & Half, then stir
- Add the Vanilla Extract (if using) and stir again
- Chill well in the fridge! I plan for about two hours minimum. (Note: this step may be optional if your ice cream maker has an electric cooling feature–I use the kind with a special frozen bowl)
- Set up ice cream maker and add creamy mixture according to manufacturer instructions
- It is ready as soft serve after 20-30 minutes churning, or place in freezer safe ice cream containers and allow to ripen in freezer for 2-4 hours minimum